Mexico City II - Teotihuacan and Anthropology Museum

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This page contains two places you must visit if you wish to claim that you've been to Mexico City.

Teotihuacan, the City of God in Aztec language, is today a UNESCO heritage site, some 25 miles northeast of Mexico City. Much older than Mexico City (Tenochtitlan), history of Teotihuacan can be traced back to 200BC. However, the origin of the city is still under much debate. Several ancient Mexican civilizations, such as the Toltec and the Totonac, were put forth as possible founder of the city. What we're sure though, is that the city reached its prime between 2nd and 5th century, becoming the largest city in the Americas and a religious center in Mesoamerica. Then the city mysteriously declined in a sudden some time in the 7th century. Again the reason of the decline is controversial: some believe it was an invasion, possible by the Toltec, while recently many think it was an internal uprising of the lower class. At any rate, Teotihuacan built a remarkable civilization around the city and was rather influential throughout Mesoamerica. Today Teotihuacan is the most visited archeological attraction in Mexico.

Entering the city. Far away, the Pyramid of the Sun (closer) and Pyramid of the Moon (further). Although often mentioned together, the pre-Colombian pyramids are quite different from those of Egypt, which were built with large pieces of stone. The building materials of Teotihuacan, as we can see from the 3rd pic, is rubble of various sizes plus stone plates. In the last pic, I was so amazed to find a third pyramid up in the sky.

The Pyramid of the Sun (Piramide del Sol). The 2nd largest pre-Columbian pyramid. Made up of some 2.5 million tons of stones and earth, it is about 215 by 215m at base and 63m in height. Qing probably can tell you that climbing it is not as easy as it looks.

From the top, great view toward the Pyramid of the Moon.

Walking on the Avenue of the Dead. About 2.5 km in length, this is the major street in the city of Teotihuacan. The frightening name was given by the Spanish colonists, who were deeply impressed, and troubled, by the Mesoamerican practice of war prisoner sacrifice. Therefore the name is not likely what Teotihuacan used to call the street. Anyway, the town is dead now, and I did feel a bit chilly walking on the Avenue of the Death, although there're plenty of living people walking around. Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's the deserted stone cold structures, or maybe it's just the name... In the last pic is a flaking off puma design in one of the street buildings.

At the end of the avenue is a plaza, in front of which stands the Pyramid of the Moon (Piramide de la Luna). From the rocky top of the pyramid (2nd row, 1st pic), quite a view of the Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun from the top.

West to the Plaza of the Moon is the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, which is reportedly the living place of high priests. It's richly decorated by carving and mural of birds, jaguars, and human figures.

The Temple of Feathered Serpent (Piramide de Quetzalcoatl, south end of the Avenue of the Dead) is dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, the mythical feathered serpent and Tlaloc, the Rain God. The temple is reportedly decorated with 260 of these feathered serpent head shown in pix 3-5.

North of the Pyramid of the Moon are several restaurants. We went to this one called Techinanco, recommended by Lonely Plant (another reason to try is that "China" is embedded in the name). It's the only restaurant that doesn't hire a bunch of clowns dressing like Aztec to attract customers. Honest delicious Mole dishes, their sauce is the best we had in Mexico.


The National Museum of Anthropology is the perfect place to learn about the rich pre-columbia anthropology as well as history of Mexico. The museum is located at Chapultepec Park, a hill on the outskirt of Mexico City. Opened in 1946, the museum displays pre-colonial anthropology findings from all over Mexico.

The exhibitions are neatly arranged by ethnic regions and chronological order. So let's start with so-called Pre-classical period, roughly 2000 BC to 300 AD (timeline may vary slightly from different sources). The period was marked by the appearance of pottery and ended with the rise of Teotihuacan and Mayan civilization. The exhibits are mostly ceramic containers and figurines. Some items, like Acrobat Vase (mid pre-classic) in the 2nd pic, show impressive craftsmanship.

From around 300BC to 900BC is the so-called Classical Period, during which Teotihuacan and Maya are two of the most significant civilizations. As mentioned above, Teotihuacan emerged at around 200 BC and soon rose to the center stage of Mesoamerican history. The rich displays range from large piece stone ornament removed from the Temple of Feathered Serpent (1st 2 pix, with colors nicely preserved) to containers, figurines, and small artifacts. The 4th pic is a fragment from the facade of the Temple of the Sun.

There're clearly improvements in craftsmanship since the pre-classical period, isn't it? In the 2nd last pic, another version of the Rain God Tlaloc.

The Mayan Display. Maya is probably the most brilliant Mesoamerican civilization in the Classical period. They developed the only known written language in pre-colonial Americas and accumulated advance astronomical and mathematical knowledge that enable them to calculate lunar cycle and predict eclipse precisely. They created a sophisticated calender system, which is more accurate than our calendar today in certain aspects. Mayan were widely spread in Mesoamerica. In Mexico, they most inhabited in the Yucatan Peninsula. From the exhibit, their art is just as spectacular as their scientific achievements.

Just love these little dramatic figurines. In the last pic the awkwardly lying stone statue is called Chac-Mool, usually used as an altar.

Death and afterlife. Maya obviously believe in afterlife. Here we have Pacal the Great, a 7th century Mayan ruler, built himself a fancy tomb and a beautifully-crafted jade death mask (2nd pic). In the 3rd pic, the head on the left is how he looks in a young age. A figurine in a blossom (4th pic) signifies reborn or reincarnation, I was told. In the last pic, a young child was buried in a vase. How sloppy, may the little thing rest in peace.

The Post-classical Period (900AD - 1521), by definition came after the Classical Period un till the Spanish colonist come in 1521. The characteristic of such period is military and warrior-rule, contrary to the priests and elite-rule states in the Classical period. During such a period, the most well-known civilization would have to be the Mexica or Aztec. They founded Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) and built an empire around it. Among the Aztec collections in the museum are plenty of stone structure and statues taken from buildings. The most outstanding of them all is of course the giant Sun Stone (1st pic), a basal slab that described the four disasters that led the Aztec to Tenochtitlan. It's actually a religious artifact, although often mistaken as the Aztec Calendar. We saw images of serpent repeatedly in the display, maybe it has something to do with the feathered serpent Quetzalquatl, the god of civilization and learning.

Some of the interesting statues.

Other artifacts. A beautiful plummet headdress in the 1st pic.

The Toltec flourished after the collapse of Teotihuacan but before the uprising of the Aztec. In its heyday, which is round 900-1200AD, the Toltecan dominated most of the central Mexico.

Fine artifacts, especially in the 2nd pic, a small figurine of Quetzalcoatl the feathered serpent emerge from the mouth of a coyote, signifying its arising from the earth.

Oaxaca, another important Post-classical civilization, center around the state of Oaxaca in the southern coast of Mexico. Dominant ethnic groups were Zapotec and the Mixtec. Somehow I found these Oaxaca figurines particularly...comic, with disproportional body and dramatic expression. I won't be surprised if they just walked out of a Japanese cartoon, say the Dragon Ball.



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